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Dengue Fever

Have you ever wondered what would it be like to combine the shaking chills of a tropical hemorrhagic fever with the unbearable pain of a broken bone? If you're curious, catch a plane to Brazil, get bitten by an infected Aedes mosquito, and experience firsthand what it's like to have Dengue Fever -- a disease that infects over 100 million people every year.

Like Malaria, Dengue (named after the Swahili word for "Evil Spirit") is transmitted in a cycle of mosquitoes drinking infected human blood and then spreading the disease to new victims -- including curious Westerners. As recently as a century ago, the four viruses that make up Dengue appear to have jumped from monkeys to humans, and the disease has recently shown explosive growth -- the number of cases doubling in the last ten years.

You will be fascinated by the initial flue-like symptoms that start four days after exposure -- headache, high fever up to 104 F, vomiting and a red, patchy rash. Muscle pain is so severe it has earned the nickname "Break-Bone Fever." If you are one of the 5% that progresses to the more serious hemorrhagic phase, you will be want to take note of nosebleeds, black colored vomit, tar-like diarrhea and bleeding from the gums. "Dengue Shock" may come next, followed by death in up over 20 thousand people annually. Since four viruses are involved, the truly interested tourist can catch the disease up to four times -- although once may be enough for most people, especially since recurrent disease often more severe.

If the trajectory of epidemics continues, you won't even need to travel to catch a case -- up to 40% of the world population lives in tropical areas infected with Dengue, and the disease is spreading as global warming increases the range of the Aedes mosquito. Cases are already appearing in the southern United States and Hawaii. No vaccine exists, and no effective treatment is known.

So if you are planning a mission trip to Haiti, avoid unnecessary contact with your six-legged bloodsucking friends by packing insect repellent and protective clothing. And if your goal as a tourist is to collect immunity to each one of the hemorrhagic fevers, you might want to save this one for last.

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